11 True Crime Movies That Will Chill You to the Bone
Telling yourself “it’s only a movie” won’t work with these terrifying true crime films. Lock the doors and prepare for chills.
Steve Carell gives a thrilling performance as the real-life murderous multimillionaire and du Pont fortune heir in this true crime thriller. In the real tale, du Pont recruited an Olympic wrestling medallist and his older brother to start a training camp on his estate. His obsession for the sport (and the brothers) turns dark. Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo play the sibling athletes in the film. Things take a turn for the murderous in this true crime film that features mesmerizing performances as it examines wealth, madness and the struggle to win at any cost.
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
This cinematic classic follows the true crime spree of real-life criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who went on a murderous binge during the Great Depression. The couple gained notoriety for their robberies through rural America that often ended in murder. The 1967 film version stars Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty as the infamous outlaws. The film shocked audiences due to its glamorous depiction of crime and violence. The final shoot-out is still shocking and is sure to leave you with chills.
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This Best Picture Oscar winner follows the true-life undertaking of a team of investigative reporters at the Boston Globe who won’t give up until they blow the story wide open. It doesn’t matter that the details they uncover are the kind of thing no one wants to hear about. The movie is based on the molestation of children by priests and a cover-up by the Catholic church in Boston. The movie takes you along on the fact-finding mission that’s as tragic as it is chilling—especially because it’s true. Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton are part of an ensemble cast that takes you along on the investigation. For more covert investigations, check out these great movies about spies.
Martin Scorsese’s mafia coming-of-age story entrances you with its exhilarating thrill ride through the life and times of real-life criminal, Henry Hill—expertly played by Ray Liotta. Goodfellas shows the glamour of fast money, but you can’t turn away from the violence and betrayal that’s always right around the corner. Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci star as Liotta’s volatile partners. Mob men are captivating, but they’ll also terrify you in this acclaimed classic about crime and punishment. Goodfellas lost the Best Picture Oscar to Dances with Wolves. Why do you think these masterpieces missed out on the big award?
In Cold Blood (1967)
Truman Capote’s true crime book In Cold Blood chilled American readers with its disturbing report of a Kansas family murdered in their home by two heartless criminals. The film adaptation is just as unnerving. Premiering in 1967 shortly after the book, it stars Robert Blake and Scott Wilson as the murderers. The flashback structure adds tension, as does the eerie use of black and white cinematography with its layers of shadows and sense of documentary truth—because you know all this really happened.
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Reversal of Fortune (1990)
Celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz wrote a book about a true life case involving the wealthy von Bulows. The wife slipped into a coma while her husband underwent a high-profile trial for her attempted murder. In the film version, Glenn Close plays the affluent Sunny, and her fate is the centre of the film’s mystery. Did she fall into the coma by accident? Or did husband Claus put her there in an attempt to inherit her loads of wealth? Jeremy Irons won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the hard-to-trust European noble husband who claims to be innocent. Watch this enthralling drama and try to figure out if you believe the defendant’s story or not. Irons will keep you guessing the whole time.
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From Hell (2001)
Johnny Depp plays a police detective in this eerie slasher film that chronicles the investigation of Jack the Ripper in late 1800s London. Though never solved conclusively, the Jack the Ripper murders are based on the true history of a series of gruesome murders of women in Whitechaple England during the Victorian era. From Hell captures the macabre and grisly nature of the settings and the crimes. There’s a strong sense of disturbing nightmare, despite the love story between Depp and Heather Graham as real-life victim Mary Kelly, whose fate here veers from actual history. Prepare for shadowy visuals that capture the gloom at the heart of the tale.
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Summer of Sam (1999)
Spike Lee directed this acclaimed thriller that takes place during 1977 amid the true story of David Berkowitz. Known as the “Son of Sam” killer, Berkowitz terrorized New York City through a series of gun murders. He was finally caught after an intense manhunt that clutched the city and the news cycle. Lee’s film uses the crimes as a backdrop for a story of friendship between Adrien Brody and John Leguizamo as the two men make sense of their lives during a summer of fear and violence until the serial killer is finally caught.
Heavenly Creatures (1994)
Before Kate Winslet was a huge movie star, she played a teenage murderess in this true crime story about matricide. Melanie Lynskey stars as Winslet’s partner-in-crime in this creepy but riveting tale about two teenagers who end up killing one of their moms. The filmmakers based the movie on newspaper accounts of the crime and trial that took place in New Zealand in 1954. The film focuses on the intense fantasy life at the heart of the young girl’s friendship. When circumstances pull the two BFFs away from each other, they decide that killing Lynskey’s mother is the only way to stay close. Prepare for a dreamlike movie that will shock you to the core. (Check out the surprising science behind friendship.)
Charlize Theron won the Best Actress Oscar for her searing portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos. Theron famously gained weight and wore prosthetic teeth to embody the real life criminal. Wuornos had a hard upbringing that included child prostitution. All her victims were men who she claimed to have killed in self-defense. Theron’s performance provides a look at Wuornos’ humanity and her severe mental illnesses. Monster will haunt you long after the credits roll.
Terence Malick’s chilling masterpiece is loosely based on Charlie Starkweather’s murderous spree across Nebraska and Wyoming in the late 1950s. Starkweather was a teenager at the time and the girlfriend he took along with him was just 14. In Badlands, the outlaw couple are played by Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. The lush Midwestern heartland scenery is a harsh contrast to the horror of the crimes in this haunting film about violence with a bizarre love story at the centre.
Originally published as 11 True Crime Movies That Will Chill You to the Bone on ReadersDigest.com.